On November 6, 2010 Eric O'Neal crossed the finish line after 15 hours to hear the words "Eric O'Neal, you are an Ironman!"
What a week leading up to this amazing moment. We left the Monday before the race to head down to Grayton Beach, FL where Eric's family was staying for the week at Aunt Debra's (thanks so much Deb!). Cheryl and Buddy (Eric's parents), Mamaw and Papaw (Eric's grandparents), Melissa (Eric's sister), Jackson and Langdon (Melissa's kids) were there to meet us. Eric's Aunt Debra and Uncle Rusty live in Grayton and so it was so good to spend time with family and "relax" before the big weekend. I use relax loosely since it was hard to keep our mind off of anything else than Ironman. I think everyone was nervous!
On Wednesday my mom, grandmother, and aunt came down to Panama City and Eric and I headed over to see them. Eric had booked a room in Panama City at the race site and that is where he stayed Wednesday and Thursday. Lucas and I stayed with my family - the original plan was for Lucas and I to stay with Eric, but let's just say that the accommodations at the Boardwalk Beach Resort were not quite 14 month old friendly.
Thursday night we at a a Japanese steak house with the whole family. My brother John and cousin Briana came down on Thursday too, so they were able to join in on the fun. It was great to get everyone together. After dinner Eric and I went to the meeting for all the participants. It was so inspirational to see all the athletes. There was an 81 year old man, an 80 year old man, a 67 year old woman, and a man who is blind participating in the race. It was incredible. There was also a man who had completed more than 100 Ironman races. (I said that he obviously does not have a wife and kids!)
On Friday we took it easy and Eric, Lucas, and I went to lunch and then Eric and Little Man took a long nap together. That evening Eric and I went back to the hotel. Eric woke up at 3:00 am Saturday a.m. to eat breakfast and get his nutrition going. It was going to be a long day.
We met up with Eric's family and my family on the beach prior to the start of the swim. Eric was nervous, but he had it under control. My dad and uncle Bob and Melissa's husband Keith all came on Friday, so it was good to see them. We all wore orange shirts with WDE on the front and War Damn Eric on the back. This was one of the best things we could have done because it helped Eric find us while he was out on the race.
It was crazy to say the least! He did awesome on the swim! While he was out on his first lap I took my family up to the hotel room since it overlooked the swim and they were able to warm up (because it was so cold that morning) and get some great pictures. They had to make 2 laps for the swim and so we were able to see Eric running on the beach to start the 2nd lap. Eric's family made some great signs which also helped him see where we were. Once he had started his 2nd lap we made our way to the chute that led to the bike transition. We met up with Jason and Julie Carroll and Sophia. Jason and Eric have been friends since college and Jason is the reason Eric got started in triathlons. Sophia is Eric doctor and fellow triathlete who has been so helpful with "fixing" his knee and ankle. We were able to see Eric head to transition and the we moved on to where we could see him head out on the bike. My family was able to see Eric from the balcony and get some great pics of him heading to his bike.
We were able to cheer for him as he zoomed by at the bike start. Then we had some time to kill while he was making the 112 mile loop. Eric's Aunt Debra, Uncle Rusty, Mamaw, and Papaw left to run some errands and they were able to meet him along the way, which was huge for him to see them! My dad and cousin Briana were also able to meet him along the way. We saw him come out to start the run and he looked great. He did really well on the bike. Now was the toughest part...the 26.2 mile run. He had to make 2 loops and we were able to see him at the turn around point for the 2nd loop. He was tired and cold, but he persevered.
Around the time that he was to come to the finish we went to the bleachers they had set up for spectators. It was so much fun to see all these people come through after a grueling day with huge smiles on their faces. It was so exciting! Then we saw Eric. I grabbed Lucas and we went down to the barrier and cheered for Eric! That is when the water works started...and I am NOT a pretty crier at all! I couldn't help it though. There was so much emotion for me because I knew how hard he had worked for this moment! We met up with him and I got one of the biggest hugs I have ever received from him. He was crying too when he saw us and Lucas was I'm sure thinking "You people have lost your minds!" It was such an amazing time. Read Eric's blog to know what he was thinking while on the race.
Eric, I am so unbelievably proud of you. You worked so hard for this moment! You are an Ironman!! Lucas is so blessed to have you as a father. You are going to teach him what it means to work for what you want in life and to not let anything stop you from achieving your dreams! What a great gift to give to your son! I love you!